Why we shouldn’t buy into all food fear campaigns.


Just because something is written by a celebrity doctor or a popular blogger, it does not make it a fact.

There are many unsubstantiated claims about the harmful effects of certain foods in circulation. People claim that a particular food is the root of all evil, and blame it for all their ills based on the word of an author, blogger or the media. Not all health ‘’experts’’ who are promoting food fears are doing so in the best interest of the individual. Fear sells– and the more the fear, the more it is shared via social media, and the more the profit for the so called expert in terms of book sales, a service or a supplement.

Most of these fears are not supported by scientific evidence. Studies quoted as a backup to these claims are often flawed, and the ones that are validated are often misinterpreted. Although references seem impressive as first glance, if one actually reads even just the abstract of the study, it can be seen how the results are totally misinterpreted. It is becoming common to make extreme assumptions from research to fuel fear-mongering tactics.

The people who make these claims know that fear is a strong emotion and it can be used to steer people into making emotional rather than reasoned choices.

This is happening with so many foods, but in this article I will deal with just two subjects that are irking me right now- the effects of gluten and the query that corn contains gluten.

1. Gluten is poison!

Let me start with the ever increasing fear of gluten. I will say it time and time again. The only medical conditions that are scientifically proven to require a gluten free diet are coeliac disease, non coeliac gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia and dermatitis herpetiformis (coeliac rash). There are people with other medical conditions like auto immune thyroid disease and autism that claim to benefit from a gluten free diet however current research does not yet support these claims. I suggest that these people should follow the advice from their medical team regarding the matter. However, many perfectly healthy individuals are choosing to eliminate gluten from their diets based on little or no evidence other than testimonials in the media, and books with no evidence based reporting. The apparent benefits of eliminating gluten are endless and some of the claims are beyond belief.

These are some comments I received after an article I wrote that highlighted the medical reasons for which people need to follow a gluten free diet. These people somehow felt insulted and felt the need to educate me because I said that experts agree that no benefit has been found in excluding gluten from one’s diet when no medical condition warrants this.

  • Gluten is inflammatory for all … Allergenic to some.
  • Medical professionals have been telling us for years that we should not be ingesting gluten.  I don’t understand why everyone is so offended by people trying to be healthier. Even if you want to call it a “trend” I’d say it’s a pretty progressive one.
  • Gluten causes intestinal and joint inflammation, the gas, the groggy feeling all over, the inability to think well after consuming. This isn’t a fad! The gluten free diet is a form of educating yourself on what your eating and how it affects your body.
  • Yes, it is generally an intelligent idea for healthy-minded human beings to avoid gluten.

But I am saving the best one for last, because a celebrity doctor was actually mentioned.

  • This chick who wrote this is a whiner and is missing the entire point of gluten free eating, which is to avoid a myriad of symptoms from eating gluten ranging from skin problems, inflammation, heart disease, and of course coeliac disease. She’s not a doctor, and I certainly take the word of cardiologist Dr. William Davis who wrote the book about gluten and its problems, over this whiny chick.

I am all for people living a healthy lifestyle and preventing diseases. If anybody eats healthy unprocessed foods, increases their intake of natural foods rich in nutrients and fibre, and couples this with regular exercise, they will definately help to prevent diseases like cardiac disease, diabetes 2 and stroke, as well as a myriad of symptoms. But sadly, the gluten free diet tends to be lacking in fibre, iron, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folate if one is not careful. And gluten free products are packed with sugars and preservatives.

As for the claim that a gluten free diet can prevent coeliac disease, all I can say is absolutely not! For coeliac disease to rear its ugly head, one must have the specific gene or genes, and it often requires a trigger. Yes, gluten must be in the system for the auto-immune reaction to occur, but the person must be genetically susceptible in the first place, and not every person who has the gene actually develops the disease. A gluten free diet is the treatment for coeliac disease.

For those of you who are not familiar with Dr William Davis, he is the author of the New York Times bestseller, ”Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. Since this was written by an actual doctor, people automatically trust that what is written is gospel. To read more about why this book is exactly what I am talking about in this piece, read ”Wheat belly, busted” http://noglutennoproblem.blogspot.com/2012/03/wheat-belly-busted.html

2. Corn contains gluten and corn is not suitable for coeliacs!

First of all, corn (maize) that has not been contaminated is ‘gluten free’ in the sense of gluten that is known to affect coeliacs. Corn contains a substance known in agriculture as “corn gluten,” which isn’t the same gluten we refer to with regards to gluten intolerances. Outside of agriculture, the term gluten refers to gluten contained in the grasses wheat, barley and rye. It is the related proteins in these three grains that give rise to the peptide sequences that are capable of triggering the auto-immune response of coeliac disease. So to say that corn contains gluten is actually not correct when we are not speaking about agriculture.

Some coeliac disease patients who are established on a strict gluten-free diet still suffer from symptoms. I wrote a post about this last January titled ”Do you still suffer from symptoms of coeliac disease even though you follow a gluten-free diet?”.


I suggested that before refractory coeliac disease is suspected, there could be other possible reasons for still feeling unwell. These include the possibility of gluten cross contamination (even corn is often contaminated with gluten), different sensitivity to gluten (some people cannot tolerate the recommended limit of gluten),  secondary causes like IBS , due to associated auto-immune conditions and due to symptoms unrelated to gluten like other food sensitivities.

An article by   Ortiz-Sánchez et al (2013) states that the lack of response could be related to other dietary ingredients, such as maize, which is one of the most common alternatives to wheat used in the gluten-free diet. It has been documented that some maize prolamins (zeins) contain amino acid sequences that resemble the wheat gluten immunodominant peptides. A 2012 study published in Plant foods for human nutrition,  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22298027 , showed that in some coeliacs, as a rare event, maize could induce a coeliac-like immune response by similar or alternative mechanisms to those used by wheat gluten peptides.

This is useful information for the follow-up of some coeliacs who remain unresponsive to the gluten free diet, but this does not mean that all coeliacs cannot tolerate corn. If anybody with coeliac disease is doing well on a gluten free diet, please do not be alarmed by these claims. Just because a coeliac has another food intolerance does not mean that all coeliacs do! The same can be said for maize. This study is very useful, but again it is being misinterpreted and is being applied to all coeliacs by the media.

Final Note.

There are so many other claims being made about different foods that I could go on forever. Sadly, it is often perfectly healthy people who buy into these claims and limit their diets for no reason. Moderation in everything and healthy eating is the key, unless one has a medical condition to warrant such a dietary elimination.




photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/h-k-d/3685379062/”>h.koppdelaney</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

One thought on “Why we shouldn’t buy into all food fear campaigns.

  1. Pingback: And the fear continues. | Candie's Adventures in Gluten-Free Land

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